Rochelle Riley Detroit Free Press
Published 7:00 AM EDT Sep 16, 2018
In one of the most historic election years in memory — besides the year a young U.S. senator from Chicago became the first African-American president and the year a pompous reality TV star and coddled businessman became the 45th — the American political landscape may drastically change.
Democrat Ayanna Pressley could become the first black female elected to Congress from Massachusetts.
Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams could become the first black female governor America has ever had.
Democrat Andrew Gillum could become the first black governor of Florida.
Democrat Ben Jealous could become the first black governor of Maryland by besting a popular Republican opponent. It’s a long shot, but most voters in Maryland are Democrats.
So while much has been made of the blue wave making its way across America, we better pay attention to the black wave.
And that brings us to Michigan, where U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a vital and effective leader, is facing political newcomer John James, a clean-cut, good-looking brother, a Farmington Hills Republican and military veteran who won the primary by a respectable margin.
The last time Michigan had a black senator in Washington was — NEVER.
Conventional wisdom says Sen. Debbie Stabenow is safe, as safe as Hillary Clinton was two Novembers ago.
But besides the blue wave roiling America, there is a very real black wave. And both the Democratic and Republican parties, which have been tone-deaf to the disdain many Americans feel for traditional politics, better wake up.
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Voters have made clear they want the same hope and change that got Barack Obama elected. And that change means historic change, earth-shattering change.
So consider this: It is 2018 in the 21st Century, and the United States does not currently have a single black governor serving its citizens — not one.
In the history of the United States, only four African-American men — and no African American women — have served as governor:
Pinckney Pinchback, the son of a former slave, was first, serving Louisiana from 1872 to 1873.
Douglas Wilder served as the 66th governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994, the first African-American to do so since Pinckney.
Deval Patrick served as Massachusetts governor from 2007 to 2015.
And David Paterson served as 55th governor of New York from 2008 to 2010.
That brings us to the Gretchen Whitmer race. The Lansing Democrat faces Trump clone Bill Schuette, the state attorney general who has redefined himself so much that I expect him to have orange hair by October.
Whitmer has made the roads, education and healthcare her main priorities.
Let’s take the first: Fix the damn roads, her initial commercials said. Problem is: the commercials are running while more work is being done on the roads than at any other time of year. So she could Trump the moment and say “See. They’re fixing the roads like I told them.” But she wouldn’t lie. Or she could realize that the roads are not the most important to the voters she needs to vote. Many of those folks don’t have cars. Many of the ones who have cars can’t afford insurance.
Now, the second: It is important to focus on education, but not unless there’s a plan to double education spending so you can pay teachers what they’re worth and combat declines that have been consistent for decades.
And the third? Yes, the health insurance crisis is a crisis. But people already know it. They know the GOP doesn’t care whether people have insurance, can see doctors or die without insurance. So that is not news.
That means the messages aren’t as important as the action they must spur. The most important thing Whitmer may have done was choose a reputable black man, Garlin Gilchrist, as a running mate — a man who would become the first black lieutenant governor in Michigan’s history — and try to catch that black wave.
That means that Whitmer should be spending less money on TV ads and more on buses, vans, taxis, scooters and whatever else it takes to get people to the polls.
She better call Jewel Ware.
Hillary Clinton ignored the longtime politician, now a Wayne County commissioner, and who has been helping to get Democrats elected for longer than Garlin Gilchrist, has been alive.
If Democrats can get — particularly black Democrats — to vote the way they did in Alabama and Florida and Georgia, Whitmer could be a shoo-in.
But if folks tired of the Democratic Party do not vote, Michigan will get its own Trump in Schuette, a man who has already embraced dismantling programs for the poor (including Gov. Rick Snyder’s Medicaid expansion) and helping Betsy DeVos create a permanent underclass in Michigan by sending most black children to vocational schools and creating a private education system for white (and high-achieving minority) children. (But that is another column).
If Whitmer follows the failed Hillary Clinton strategy, and her campaign believes that, no matter how much lunacy is assigned to Donald Trump, people will vote against him, here are two facts:
- Trump is not running.
- People are more disenchanted with the Democratic Party than they are angry at Trump. This is evidenced, in part, by the growing national movement to create an Independent Party. These folks are young. They include many people who were fired up by Bernie Sanders. They do not believe they are throwing away their vote by not voting Democrat. And they are serious. (But that is another column).
This column is about the waves moving across America. One of them is blue. But one of them is black. And they may not be moving in the same direction.
So all candidates would be wise to remember that every election is closer than you think, anything is possible — and this election could change the political landscape, particularly for Michigan.
And it could be as black as it is blue.
Contact Rochelle Riley: at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley. Get info about her book at www.rochelleriley.com. Rochelle is on book leave until October. She will read emails sporadically. If you have information about an urgent news story, please contact Maryann Struman at [email protected]
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